Hot-headed gangster Blackie Gallagher (Clark Gable, Gone with the Wind) navigates through the sordid underbelly of city life to the consternation of his best friend Jim Wade (William Powell, Life With Father), who happens to be a respected D. A. You know that sooner or later their worlds will collide. Myrna Loy (The Thin Man) plays the morally ambiguous woman loved by both men.
Reaction & Thoughts:
This famous depression era gangster melodrama (no pun intended) has not dated well, but it does offer enough goodies to keep you entertained. Manhattan Melodrama, directed by W.S. Van Dyke (1932’s Tarzan the Ape Man), entered the history books as the movie that infamous bank robber John Dillinger had just seen before the FBI gunned him down in front of Chicago’s Biograph Theater.
Manhattan Melodrama is also notable as the first pairing of Loy and Powell (they made fourteen movies together). Sadly, the film itself is not particularly interesting. Despite winning the Oscar for Best Original Story, the narrative offers few surprises. It’s not entirely the filmmakers’ fault though. The whole “friends-on-opposite-sides-of-the-law” thing has become a tired movie cliché. Yesterday’s fresh twists and turns, today’s stale narrative.
Typical of old Hollywood this is a film with a strong moral agenda: crime doesn’t pay. At least, that’s what the filmmakers wanted the audience to believe. There is only one minor problem: the amoral hoodlum is more appealing than the hero — Jim comes off rather cold and simple-minded. Gable’s effortless charm offsets the balance. As misguided and corrupted as his character is, you never hate him for his horrendous actions, which includes cold murder. Intentional or not, you can’t help but feel bad for the criminal.
Gable gives a colorful performance. Powell and Loy are a bit less charismatic, but they all make a nice trio. A very young Mickey Rooney (Babes in Arms) plays Gable as a boy. The cast also includes Leo Carrillo (Lillian Russell), Nat Pendleton (Northwest Passage), and Muriel Evans (Mr. Deeds Goes to Town).
Conclusions & Final Thoughts:
Manhattan Melodrama slows down considerably as it reaches its predictable climax. It’s still an entertaining flick. I just think Warner Bros. was much better at this sort of thing (e.g. Angels with Dirty Faces). B&W, 90 minutes, Not Rated.